Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A TSA Compliant Bugout / Get Home Bag

If you tried to get through an airport security checkpoint with your bugout bag as a carryon, what would set off the alarms?

The obvious offenders would be your gun, your knives, your water, your pepper spray, and many of your tools. But happily, the list of what you can take past security is actually quite long. The TSA lists the things on its no-fly list in this brochure: TSA Prohibited Items 

While I am quick to buy prohibited items after I land including a knife and lighter, some notable TSA approved carryon-able items include one book of safety matches, sub 7-inch tools including screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers, and scissors plastic tips and blades of less than four inches. 

Of course the absolute decision of whether or not any given item is allowed through security rests with the on-site security agents, so nothing is in stone, and much may depend on your presentation and attitude, and perhaps the mood of any given agent. So don't count on everything you see on the TSA's website or read in a prepper's blog.  Add to this the variety of different country's airports and the rolling global security alerts, and your mileage may vary wildly.

I know I’m not alone when I curse bin Laden’s name every time I have to endure the airport security lines and screenings, but I’ve also traveled enough to feel comfortable with the limits place upon me. But no, I'm not happy about it. And I also know I’m not alone when it comes to wondering just what would happen if another 911 forced my plane to land somewhere completely unexpected.  Or that I’m just one or two engine failures away from a hard landing in snowy mountains.

Two directions of BOB thinking can be combined into one effective collection of TSA approved items increasing your chance of survival or making it back home. One line of thought is surviving long enough to be rescued, and the other is fighting your way back home.

But first some tips. Consider what you should have on your person compared to in your carryon bag. In an emergency situation you better not be clogging my exit with your backpack. So after I am though security, I rearrange my gear and pocket the most important items. I also have a smaller “murse” or man-purse that can be accessed quickly, carried easily, and won’t impede my way to the closest exit, which may be behind me.

Many traditional BOB ingredients are just fine, but the size or quantity may need to be reduced. Plus you should adjust your outerwear for the season or potential flyover areas. 

My TSA compliant BOB / GetHome bag includes at a minimum, the following, with my brand/model suggestions actively linked. However, it is important to note that this list has air travel and airport security in mind. The actual individual items would most certainly change if the TSA were out of the equation. I have had international travel experience with all the items, never encountered a problem. A few odd looks, but no problems.

The list:

-Two small to medium water bottles (you can fill them after passing through the security checkpoint). The smaller sizes are easier to fill and stow.
-Powerbar-type foods, nuts, gum, and the ultimate food Omnibars.

-Duct tape
-Flashlight (with AA batteries)
-Headlamp (with AA batteries)
-Cell phone with extra battery pack (charged)
-AM/FM/weather radio like the Sony SRF-M37V with earbuds (with AA batteries)
-TSA compliant scissors
-GPS with maps chip (with AA batteries)
-Titanium cup (can cook/boil water in it over fire)
-Book of matches in watertight bag.
-Ferrocerium rod
-Zip ties
-Soap, small bar
-Aspirin or other pain reliever
-Foam earplugs
-Fisher Space Pen
-Small first aid kit
-Sanatary wipes/alcohol sanitizer
-Micro-sized Fishing kit
-2 Carabiners
-Three yards of half-inch tubular webbing
-Tactical Pen (but not too tactical)
-Schrade titanium pry tool (hardly a “pry bar” at 
only 3.25 inches)
-Two 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bags
-Leather gloves
-Drop pouch for fast storage (I recommend 5.11)

You should also wear comfortable and durable walking shoes, and natural fiber shirt, pants, and socks (most non-natural fibers melt around fire).

The above items, along with my usual travel garb and tech are divided into three categories: those things on me (think in pockets or worn around the neck, wrist or waist),  those things in my murse (which is often a Maxpedition or SpecOps organizer), and those in my traditional carryon bag/backpack.

Those things on me include the TSA compliant Leatherman, the tactical pen, cell phone, flashlight, watch, Ferrocerium rod, and the pry tool.

Those things in my murse include some but not all the powerbars/Omnibars, paracord, duct tape, headlamp, water purification tablets, scissors, compass, GPS, Tinder Tabs, first aid kit, some zip ties, micro fishing kit, pliers, notebook, one freezer bag, bandana, Fisher Space Pen, Buff mask, one particulate mask, and one carabiner on the outside.

All the rest goes in my normal carryon bag. Speaking of which, here are my rules of thumb for a carryon bag.

First, you must be able to wear it without holding on to it so you can run and climb using both hands. I prefer technical climbing backpacks or higher-end computer backpacks when flying. Tactical backpacks are fine when on your home turf.

Your carryon should not attract undue attention from either color or tacticalness. Some airport security (mostly outside the US) take special interest in military-looking luggage, so take it easy on the molle, morale patches, flags, OD green, and camo.

Put the items most likely to attract attention by security screeners in obvious places or even outside the bag. This includes the tactical pen (during the security check I often have it in the writing position with the cap off), the pry tool, the scissors, pliers, the Leatherman, and the water bottles. The titanium cup might also need a second look so that is a good one to clip to the outside of your pack for it's journey through the x-ray machine. Then please promptly stow it back in your pack so you don't look like one of those goofy Hollywood actor-types appear like a seasoned hiker with a cup clanking around as you walk.

What you do want is to have the TSA easily see questionable items, and find them quickly when searched for. You cannot win an argument with the TSA agents so be prepared to loose your item, or possibly mail it back home--a service offered in some airports. In other words, don't pack any heirloom-quality survival tools.

I’ve had good luck attaching the Leatherman and the pry tool to my car keys, sending the water bottles through on their own, and putting the tool-like stuff in with my computer cables or camera equipment. You don’t want to appear to be hiding anything, or potentially be up to something nefarious. You’re just a seasoned road warrior, which is exactly right. Right?

The final tip is to use your brain and trust your instincts. I cannot count the number of times my flights have deviated from their intended courses whether in schedule, landing site, travel comfort, or inflight emergency. 

In the past I’ve requested a different flight because I didn’t like the way the maintenance workers were looking at my plane. I’ve asked and received flights to different arrival cities when the connecting flights became unusable. And I am quite practiced in the art of sleeping in airports and train stations where a quick analysis of traffic flow, food services, bathroom proximity, lighting, power outlets, and walls and corners to my back will ensure I have the best option when it's obvious this is the end of the line for today. Oh, and have plenty of cash on hand in various currencies, but especially good old American greenbacks.

And yes, I was on this Delta flight: Chaos at the Cape Town Airport

A couple juicy tidbits left out of the news story include the pilot got typhoid fever while visiting an orphanage. There were no on-site agents able to make decisions so all communication had to go through HQ in Atlanta (middle of the night there, BTW). The plane's flight number was changed so all tickets had to be re-booked so absolutely no connecting flight reservations were maintained  No hotels were booked that night (like you could book 300 hotel rooms at 1 am anyway). Surface transportation was unavailable for many hours. And my all-time favorite, we had already boarded the plane before the announcement was made that we were missing a pilot…which meant we already cleared customs…which meant we were technically not in any country…which meant we could not deplane since customs is a one-way street…which meant we sat for an hour before someone figured out that we could deplane onto a bus, then drive around the tarmac to the arrival gates where customs could process us again into South Africa. And only then could we truly appreciate being stuck without a plan at the southern tip of the world. While hardly a survival situation, it did highlight our personal vulnerability, and dependency on bureaucratic absurdities nine timezones away. 

Once in the air, we had back-to-back eight hour flights with only a refueling stop in Dakar. No deplaning in Senegal  however. Just open plane doors to let in the malaria infected mosquitoes in, and where we could stand at the door threshold looking down 20 feet to the pavement with nothing but a two-inch strap strung across the doorway. Yes folks, the rules seem to change with the country. We landed at JFK at 2 AM. Nobody home. Not surprising really after all the half-truths and non-truths we were fed during the flight.

I remember standing next to the pilot outside the terminal as he was yelling into his cell phone to get some help out here. Two hours later the first shift of Delta agents arrived to discover 300 rather angry passengers. In true airport form, more workers were immediately brought in, but they were armed security guards ready to enforce the peace.

In the end, it just confirmed that even though you are packed into a metal tube with 300 other people, you are also totally on your own.

Carrry on.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Best Prepper Bugout Gun: A case for the Glock 26

The blogosphere is littered with high energy beliefs by hardcore opinionators who know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Aimpoint is better than EOTech, and a .40 is better than a 9, and there is no reason on earth to carry a .380, and a .308 is always better than a .223, and billeted receivers stomps forged ones into the ground. 

Well, whatever. But I am here to tell you that the single best bugout gun is a Glock 26.

Don’t worry. I am fully aware of the near-heresy of the 26 as a do-all-end-all, but hear me out. Let’s take the long view for a moment. The really long view like when the tritium in your Trijicon has raised daughter isotopes of its own. If things truly head south-and I mean polar south, you will need at least one firearm that without exception meets these requirements: 1) is the most dependable, 2) eats the most common size and brands of ammo, 3) takes the widest variety of magazines, 4) most serviceable, strippable, and cleanable, 5) highest size to accuracy ratio, 6) is small enough to carry everywhere you go regardless of situation or dress, and 7) intensely simple to operate.

I know the all usual complaints about Glocks in general and the 26 in specific, but unless you are comparing the 26 to the 19 or 17, save the complaints for when times are good. It won’t be pretty where we are going, and if you have any hesitations that we will be going there then I cannot help but wonder why you are reading this.

Bugging-In affords you all the gun and ammo storage you can dream of, but a true bugout carries significant penalties when weight, size and dependability are compromised. You can’t run your fastest with a Desert Eagle strapped to your leg. You cannot draw quickly when your H&K is in its protective case because it’s pouring rain. Instead, what you need is an ugly workhorse of a gun that never complains, never gets sick, never asks for help, and never ever fails to go bang. The Glock 26 is designed for only one purpose: to punch holes in people every single time it is called upon to do so. Every-single-time!

It is highly unlikely that you will ever need to fire a shot at another human during your bugout, but that is not what you plan for, it is what you hope for. By the way, if you have something in your bugout bag that is worth dying for, I’d like to know about it. In most cases, the firearm will be the most expensive item in a bugout bag, but not likely the most useful.

The 26 is affectionately known as the Baby Glock. While it is small for a Glock, it not the smallest (that honor now belongs to the 42), and there are many of other 9mm pistols out there that are smaller in one dimension or another. But regardless of it’s diminutive size, the 26 will accept any Glock 9mm magazine, and many aftermarket high capacity mags as well bumping your capsules of potential energy into the three figures.

Quick question, would you rather carry a box of ammo, or a loaded magazine of ammo? It’s a no-brainer. So for general carry, run a stock G26 mag loaded with 10 rounds, or perhaps with one or two more shells if you want the extended grip mag. Then stuff 33 more FMJs or hollow points each into of a pair of Glock brand high cap mags. I’ll do the math for you, that’s 76 rounds ready to go with just two mag changes. And this Baby will chew its food all day long without so much as a burp, stovepipe or jam.

Believe me, if you get yourself into a situation where 10 rounds is too few, then you won’t mind when your Baby grows into a man with 33 more reasons for the threat to choose lesser prey.

In addition to magazine interchangeability, a holster for a larger 9mm Glock will easily consume the 26. A popular preferred carry option is the Blackhawk Serpa, and I concur. I really hate it when I’m hanging upside-down  and have to wonder if my holster's grip on my gun is stronger than gravity. The Serpa has an index finger release button that smoothly lets go of the pistol only when you give the command. Not a second before or after. 

Imagine all the scenarios where a friction-fit holster could fail. Like taking a pretty good dive while running through the woods at night. Or crashing your bugout bicycle. Or getting into a little hand-to-hand with a critter. Or rolling your bugout vehicle, or falling down a mountain, or slipping in the sewer, or jumping from roof to roof, or unsuccessfully fording a river, or the least glamorous but most likely event, falling down the stairs.

The Serpa type of holster is critical if you have to mount the holster on anywhere else but a belt or pant waist. Backpacks have an up orentation only when you wear them, not when exhausted you drop it to the ground. Maybe you need to rig a chest harness to hold your piece while the real estate around your waist is compromised by position or activity like rowing a boat, or paddling a kayak, or bicycling with a backpack, using a climbing harness, wearing ill-fitting clothes, or wrapping yourself up in a sleeping bag or blanket. Do you really need me to go on?

If you need more retention, or worry about the placement of the release button being so close to the trigger, Safariland has options. Here's a take on holster security:

Strangely, for a gun known world-wide as a Baby, the accuracy of the 26 is not an issue either. In fact some multi-Glock owners have noticed that their groups are tighter with a 26 than with their 17 or 19. So if you can hit it with a larger pistol, then you can hit it with a 26. End of story.

The reliability of Glock is also a non-issue. End of that story too.

Cleaning and maintenance? Two more non-issues.

As far as I care, you are more than welcome to own, carry, and shoot any gun you like. But as the herd thins out when the rules take a holiday, you are going to need…make that demand perfection from you gun. My suggestion: Glock 26 Perfection.

Carrry on.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Pawn Shop Prepping

I don't know about where you live, but around here the pawn shops and second hand stores are filled with top drawer equipment that would make any prepper overbuy. As an experiment, I entered one of my fair city's finest stores of the pawn shop/second hand/junk store variety and pulled out a classic listing of  BOB essentials. Within 20 minutes, I had a high-end pack filled with high-end equipment albeit a little dirty, used and in some cases a touch smelly.

For obvious reasons, I skipped down a few items on the list leaving food and water, etc. for safe acquisition elsewhere.

Starting with a bag, I had a range of top brands to choose from. These weren't tactical bags, but rather of the climbing and backpacking genera. Gregory, Osprey, Lowe, The North Face, and Arctery'x were all possibilities. I chose a rather vintage Lowe travel pack for it's large size, versatility, but most of all, low price due to its age and condition since that is the point of this exercise.

There was a small selection of tents, and I could have had my way with any one of them. Fortunately I am already well stocked in tents, but for this experiment, I imagined that I picked up an elderly but still quite operational North Face 3-season tent complete with stakes and ground cloth.

I eyed the sleeping bags, and opted to shop around. Outside the gross factor, a used sleeping bag is always a gamble so I moved that item over on the list by the food and water. The sleeping pads, however, were another story. I found a mint condition ultralight ThermaRest, and a new-in-the-package folding foam pad.

Near the sleeping bags and backpacks sat a barrel full of fishing rods. A sharp eye is needed to quickly discriminate between the quality and the junk, the broken and the bent, and those mismatched like a cheap rod with a excellent reel. I was able to mix and match components myself netting a fine 4-piece fly rod, reel with quality line, and handful of flies for literally pennies on the dollar. Plus a rod case and fly box tossed in the deal as long as a few dents and some wear didn't bother me. I also grabbed a small open-face spinning reel and telescoping rod. A small yellow pocket tackle box filled with hooks, bobbers, spinners, and a couple other lures was tossed in the mix, again for pennies on the dollar rounding out the fishing side of things.

Down the isle were glass cases filled with an assortment of valuable prepping hardware. The only problem was the treasures were mixed in with piles of pure crap, Chinese knockoffs, and the seriously damaged goods of someone else's adventurous life.

The fun thing about pawn shop prepping is that often the prices for a category of item are relatively fixed regardless of brand, model, features, or even condition. I chose two multi-tools, one a Leatherman Skeletool, and the other a Gerber something or other that looked, felt, and operated perfectly.

In the knives, I got a Spyderco Endura folder and a Kershaw fixed blade hunting knife and sheath. Also in the case were a selection of sharpening stones and devices. I chose a combination sharpening kit by Smiths. There were a few SOG knives to choose from, but alas, SOG like some other companies including Gerber, Cold Steel, and Kershaw have chosen to produce some really low end stuff. In pawn shop language that translates into not worth much without some stellar pedigree. Unless I can do my internet homework before buying, I avoid SOG especially. I might miss out on a great deal, but I could just as easily pay more than retail for a POS Chinese-made knife. You cannot go wrong with Spyderco and Benchmade. Period. In this case, the Kershaw was made in Japan and predated plastic blister packaging.

The flashlight selection was a little sparse when it came to quality. No Surefires in here. But a bright yellow 4-AA cell LED Streamlight was had for a song. No batteries so it was a leap of faith until tested. But the Petzl headlamp did have batteries so that cinched the deal on that one.

There were a handful of pistols and revolvers to choose from. If I was actually going to follow through on the whole Pawn Shop Prepping exercise, I would have chosen an older and rough looking Ruger Mark II .22 auto with six inch barrel and extra 10 round mag, and a Taurus 9mm pistol with one mag. I am not much of a Taurus fan, but in this part of the experiment, beggars can't be choosers. Of course I could just walk across the street to another pawn shop and pick up a Glock in one flavor or another, but this experiment requires patronizing only one store. That's why it's an experiment.
 Digging through the ubiquitous box of holsters, I found two that fit, and will easily work for my needs. Had I really bought the guns, I'm sure the holsters would have been thrown in gratis. And maybe even a leather belt.

No padded case, however, was available for the Nikon Monarch binoculars, but the price was low enough to overlook the light scratches on the lenses, and the slight play in the diopter adjustment. Just make sure the alignment is perfect. Many pawn shop binos have been dropped. I have even held a pari of Swarovski Els to my eyes only to grimace with the double vision of misaligned tubes. Yours for only slightly below retail. I'm sure they will make some eBay shopper happy since that's where much of the pawn shop high end goes, with the nice guns listed on

Digging around deeper, I found an old MSR multi-fuel camp stove with fuel bottle and two pots. The Silva Ranger compass with clinometer was, in my second hand store jaded opinion, priced a little high, but I'm sure when the cash register bells settle down after ringing up my BOB, I'll get a better deal.

For fun, I picked out a vintage stick match holder and orange whistle I was allowed to remove from a used PFD. I found a couple carabiners as well. A word of caution here: never buy used climbing equipment from an unknown source. In my case, these carabiners will serve more domestic needs, but in a life-or-death situation, I don't think they'll let me down...literally.

In the tools area, I found three essentials, all Craftsman; an 8-in-one combination screwdriver, a 6-inch adjustable wrench, and pair of slip-joint pliers. I also found a Estwing hatchet that had seen better days...much better days, but I knew a few rounds with Mr. Grinding Wheel would put Mr. Estwing back on the straight and narrow. You see, the good thing about used equipment is that it can appear in such bad condition to seem almost worthless, but with just a little elbow grease, it's back in top working condition regardless of how many beauty pageants it had lost.

A pleasant surprise awaited me in one of the tool bins, so much so I had to contain my excitement since no price was listed on the item. It was a Silky Pocket Boy folding saw. The handle was dirty, but the blade looked unused. If you somehow have escaped knowing about Silky saws, they are some of the finest folding hand saws in the world. Made in Japan, you can choose from many different blade tooth configurations and lengths. They are legendary for long saw life, and handle quality.

There was also a machete available. It needed some work, but since a machete is not very high, or even on my bug out bag checklist, I noted its availability and moved on. Strangely, a used machete costs the same or more as a new one.

Like the sleeping bags, I passed up on the selection of two water filters. As an experiment, it was good to know such an opportunity was present, but still, there were too many unknowns with the filters to risk it. But in a pinch, I'd be first in line to buy one for the $10 or so it would cost regardless of brand and condition. Same with used water bottles.

On the electronics side, a pair of Midland walkie-talkies, an older Garmin eTrex GPS and Oregon Scientific emergency weather radio could be had for a song--and out-of-tune one at that.

In the end, I proved my point. For a very minimum of cash it is possible to outfit a heck of a nice bug out bag. A trip to the Goodwill would round out the cookware, can opener, extra clothes, and outerwear.

Now this was just an exercise in availability of inexpensive but quality items common to Bug Out Bags. However, any given pawn shop or second hand store only has a few of each item on hand, if that, so a mad rush to the used stores by the populace will only net a few well-stocked BOBs.

My suggestion is to do it now. Or tomorrow if the stores are already closed today.

Carrry on.

Monday, February 3, 2014

15 Grams that could save your life

The 3M 9211 Cool-Flow N95
Particulate Respirator 

This particular mask does two important things; it works and it folds.

First, the 3M 9211 is a three-panel respirator, according to the manufacturer "ideally suited for  situations involving heat, humidity, or long periods of wear." 

Further, and again according to 3M, this mask "can also be used to help reduce inhalation of certain airborne biological particles like mold, Bacillus anthracis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, etc. Example applications include emergency or pandemic preparedness planning, stockpiling, etc." With an endorsement like that, how can you go wrong?

Well, that's where the second important thing comes into play. This mask folds flat, and is individually sealed in plastic bag. Sure, there is a small bump where the "Cool Valve" is located, but overall, it can be carried in almost any pack, bag, purse, pocket, or glove box.

One individually wrapped mask weighs 14.7 grams or roughly half an ounce. While a bandana might have many more uses, it is not going to provide the respiratory protection you will need when your life depends on it.

As a fold-flat mask, care with the fit is more critical. The trade-off is, however, that the fold-flat masks have a higher probability of being with you on the go which makes the fit issues secondary. You cannot have a perfect fit with a mask you don't have with you.

Particulate masks like this one are not perfect solutions. They are not 100% effective, often are of temperamental fit, and have a limited working life. But when push comes to shove, and shove comes to panic, you won't have the time to debate the merits of respirator performance while you are running for your life.

Carrry on.